Airport Project's Scale Spurs Letter Campaign by Homeowners Group

Times Staff Writer

A $280-million development project proposed for Santa Monica's airport is beginning to stir opposition from a small group of homeowners worried about traffic and noise.

Two members of the Mar Vista-based homeowners group walked door-to-door this week in the small neighborhoods south and east of the airport, handing out letters calling for changes in the way the project is designed.

The canvassing, which resulted in distribution of about 200 letters, appears to be the first effort to focus concerns that the airport development is raising.

Some Influence Demanded

"It is our streets and neighborhoods that will feel the burden," the homeowners said. "There will be a development, but we may have a say in its final design."

The letter was signed by Gregory Thomas, a spokesman for a group called Homeowners Organized to Monitor Their Environment. He used the letter to invite opinions and suggestions from area residents that will later be forwarded to city officials.

The airport project envisions the development of a choice 37.5-acre parcel south of the 68-year-old, one-runway facility. The city awarded the project in November to the Reliance Development Corp., which will lease the land from Santa Monica for an estimated $30 million over the next 10 years.

Ambitious Proposal

The plan is still months away from being presented to the City Council for approval. But as written, it calls for Reliance to build a 1.272-million-square-foot complex, including offices, a movie production studio, shops and a day-care center.

It includes nine buildings four to six stories high and parking for 6,000 cars.

Santa Monica Mayor James Conn has called the airport "a gold mine waiting to be tapped."

Thomas said he plans to draft a letter that outlines alternatives to some elements of the project, such as using landscaping as a buffer or tunnels to ease traffic. The letter will be sent to Santa Monica leaders and to Los Angeles City Council members Marvin Braude and Ruth Galanter, who represent districts near the field.

Airport Itself 'Acceptable'

Thomas said he does not object to having the airport in the neighborhood but that development surrounding it must be designed in a way that will soften the blow of too much traffic, air pollution and noise.

"Realistically, a light commercial airport is acceptable," he said. "But now we are not talking airport, but 37 acres of commercial development. That's the scary part."

Thomas acknowledged that his group is small but hopes he can unite several small homeowner associations behind his cause.

He launched the letter campaign after reading an "initial study and neighborhood impact statement" written by the city's Planning Division.

The statement found that the project "may have a significant effect on the environment" and targeted several areas for further investigation in a forthcoming environmental impact report.

It recommended further study of the land because "the site could have areas containing hazardous waste and/or materials used in airport operations." The airport long served as headquarters for the McDonnell-Douglas Corp.

The statement said that the project could also increase noise and air pollution, affect drainage and runoff, and create "adverse shadow impacts" on nearby residential neighborhoods to the southwest.

Kenyon Webster, Santa Monica's senior planner, said his office has received "quite a few" letters and phone calls from residents, some in support of the project and some opposed.

"It is what might be expected. There are concerns about traffic, about the nature of the development," Webster said. "It is not outright opposition, more of (an attitude of) 'I'm worried about traffic, traffic is already bad--will this make it worse?' "

Webster added that work on the airport proposal is still "very preliminary" and that the city will be studying comments received from the public.

It began getting public comments and questions last month. The comments will be used in the writing of the environmental impact report, a process that should take at least a month and a half, Webster said.

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